Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Preparing for North Carolina

I am resting - taking vitamins as I prepare to travel to North Carolina. Yesterday I had an on-line chat with the pastor at Land of the Sky UCC church where I will be helping teach their "Seeds of Peace Camp" for the first 4 days next week. Interestingly, I think they call this event by a new name as to avoid the language hangups that could imply that this event is an "old" Vacation Bible School paradigm. It is called "Seeds of Peace Camp." I learned yesterday that they have 42 children under the age of 9 registered to come. All children are related to this new church plant in Asheville. This number reflects the age demographic of the congregation. This congregation continues to be a new progressive church plant, with about 60 to 70 in attendance for Sunday worship, reaching out with a progressive theology. I am excited about these four days. I have been practicing my violin since I will be helping with the music. "This Little Light of Mine" now has a "mountain fiddle" feel and sound to it. So much fun. Also I am taking my clerical collar. There is a Moral Monday rally in Asheville on Monday. I want to be present for that rally, which is an organic push back to the new voter and abortion restriction laws that are being pass by the North Carolina legislators. So I will be enacting in my body: "this little light of mine, I going to let it shine." Will anyone volunteer to post bail if I get arrested?

Things Have Changed

I found this brief article on the UCC website. The discovery was a reminder to me that I (we) should not ignore the denominational resources that are looking into the changing landscape of our spiritual worlds. Some of the best social and religious thinkers continue to be within the "church," thus I should not ignore their critiques as I explore the direction of the emerging church. Link: UCC webpage UMC webpage

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Visit to Holy Trinity Lutheran - Lakeview

This worship experience was perhaps the “highest” church service style I will be visiting on my sabbatical journey. By “high church style” I am using the phrase to reflect the liturgical elements present during the service. While Holy Trinity is rooted in the Lutheran tradition, their service depicts elements one would also find in an Episcopalian or Roman Catholic service – from the processing with the cross, to making the sign of the cross as one enters the sanctuary, to the Communion liturgy. Because of the many elements present during the service, there was a “worship guide” pamphlet that helped guest or those who are not familiar with the tradition understand what was happening. And yet while these ancient elements were present, there was a “freshness” that also was present in the service. The sanctuary was filled with a diversity of ages, with the median age around 40. The worship bulletin was designed with guests in mind, with words of welcome on the bulletin, similar to the UCC slogan – "No matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here." I felt at ease – perhaps because I knew the pastor and a couple of other people in the congregation. And I had no anxiety about the bulletin liturgy because there were helpful “guides” posted throughout the bulletin that instructed visitors on worship behavior. However, the print was obviously designed for a younger age group - 9 point font. The worship began with a lovely piano – viola duet. Actually in the very beginning, a Buddhist bell rang out, which served as a signal that worship was about to begin. The bell called people into a mood of silence as they prepare themselves for worship. While the music during the service was unfamiliar, it was quickly learnable and singable. The organ filled the room and moved one to sing. (Although I did see several people out of the corner of my eye who were not singing.) The sermon was short (10 minutes) since it was only one element of the worship experience. The entire service, which included Communion, was about an hour. There were no visual images projected during the worship. In fact, with the design of the sanctuary, projections would be challenging without invading the space’s design. (1920’s style building) The sanctuary was welcoming (except the hard pews), lovely decorated and well maintained. Much of their bulletin elements reminded me of Three Crosses, including listing of announcements within the bulletin. Holy Trinity’s web site is: Holy Trinity is opening a site up in the South Loop area in a few weeks. It will be interesting to see if the worship style will be different based upon the demographic they are trying to reach.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Worship at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Barry and I are off to worship at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church here in Lakeview. It is perhaps the most “traditional” congregation we have visited on this sabbatical journey. This congregation is deeply rooted in its Lutheran tradition, but also has contemporary worship elements. I had lunch with the pastor on Monday and we talked about the intentionality of Holy Trinity as a community. Recently the community went through a strategic planning process and adopted five guiding principles: act with courage, be radically inclusive, cultivate empowering relationships, delight in God's beauty, engage with intention. The congregation was one of the first Lutheran congregations that openly embrace LGBTQ folk in Lakeview and that welcome continues to be an important part of their community ethos. From their web site they say: “Many people today struggle with organized religion and we understand the many reasons a lot of people are done with church. But give Holy Trinity a try. In some ways we do church in very traditional ways. Yet, in other respects, we are not your parents' church!” Holy Trinity is opening a new worship site in the South Loop area soon – working to appeal to the unchurched. Holy Trinity’s web site link:

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Urban Village Church - Chicago

Located at a busy intersection, (Milwaukee, Division and Ashland) Urban Village Church is tucked away in the urban landscape that surrounds it. There is no evidence of a church – since it meets in a theater (Chopin Theater) on the edge of Wicker Park. As I walked toward the building, I spotted greeters outside on the sidewalk, welcoming folk and pointing them toward the inside of the building. As I walked in, I was greeted and asked to put on a nametag – and handed a bulletin. That felt churchy. Since I was a bit early, I rambled through the narthex, looking at the eclectic collection of hangings on the wall, from paintings to prints to fabric. As the “sanctuary” opened and I found a comfortable place to sit, I could not help but notice, nothing in the space spoke of “church” in the traditional sense, except one table tucked in the corner of the space with bread and wine setting on it. Also absent was any indication of this being a United Methodist congregation. The band was taking up most of the front of the space – and around the room were stage props set up for the “drama” that was playing at the theater. But the props worked well to relay the feeling of the urban world. If I was guessing what play was being performed at the theater, my guess would be West Side Story. As the service began the first praise song went right over my head – unfamiliar. I was happy when the second praise hymn was Holy, Holy, Holy. I knew the words, but have never sung it to a bass guitar. The rest of the service had traditional elements, sermon, communion, and scripture readings – so the core of the service was familiar. The median age was 30ish (many in their early 20s) – and the sermon was directed toward that age range. The topic of the day - sex. I am sure that the text was not part of the lectionary readings for the day. The sermon’s theme was inviting the congregation to think intentionally about how their sexuality and sexual behaviors fit into a “Christian” sexual ethic. The sermon lasted 35 minutes. After worship I had a warm conversation with 6 members of the congregation. It was obvious from their enthusiasm and their candor, that Urban Village was meeting a deep need within their spiritual life as they tried to live faithfully within their diverse, urban landscape. I appreciated their hospitality, and energy. Urban Village web site is:

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Urban Village Church

I am off to Urban Village church this morning. This community is a United Methodist church plant here in Chicago that launched about 5 years ago and now worships in four locations. It is interesting that it is hard to find on their website that they are denominationally related to the UMC. They do declare in a small section of their beliefs page that they are affiliated with the UMC. For me it might indicate that denominationalism is not as important within today's religious world. This is a congregation that has no building, but rents space in all of their locations: South Loop, Wicker Park, Andersonville, and Hyde Park. Urban Village is an intentional church plant, with the Northern Illinois Conference contributing financially to its start up. If you want to check out their web site it is located at:

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Any church model?

In the wake of the verdict in George Zimmerman’s trial I am left with a deep sadness and a simmering anger. My sadness arises out of a place of deep woundedness from the senseless loss of life of Trayvon Martin. My simmering anger arises out of seeing both the media and political figures seemingly unwilling to see this moment as a time to pause from “standing their own ground” and showing openness to hearing from the other how the verdict perpetuates the woundedness of violence within our country, on so many levels. Can we get beyond our critical posturing and have a respectful dialogue? As it should, the verdict has stimulated both private and public conversations about race, violence and laws that perpetuate violence in our country and how our strongly held convictions and embedded views often limit our vision and our public debates. It is my hope that any model of “new church” that we review holds deeply to one fundamental core value which will always surface: that God’s way in the world is a way of non-violence and shalom and that “church” should be a place where we value the holiness of human life. “Church” should be a place where our convictions reflect to the world a sacred quest for God’s justice.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Solomon's Porch

We are back from our visit to Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis. Wow – it is a long drive to Minneapolis, but it was a beautiful one. We wanted to experience the community of Solomon’s Porch as depicted in Doug Pagitt’s book Church Re-Imagined. What we experienced with the “flesh” is in fact what one would find described within Doug’s book. The community meets in an old Methodist congregation’s building and when you walk through the doors – you knew this community was reimagining church. The sanctuary pews have been replaced with sofas, armchairs, rocking chairs, tables with seating. It feels like a large coffee house with the art decor on the walls giving a feeling of welcome. There is no pulpit – or central place that symbolizes a concentration of "power." No one seems to be “in charge” although Doug, the founding pastor, spoke and invited everyone to join in the worship. And thus the service was underway. The service begins with a projected call to worship that is read by individuals within the congregation – at random. No one is preselected but join in; when they feel they are called to read, someone speaks up. It symbolized for me that again power and responsibility for the service is dispersed throughout the gathered community and is somewhat organic. After the gathering words are said, people are invited into Communion, with bread and wine or juice placed on tables throughout the sanctuary. The Communion liturgy is a short introduction into community – and then folk go the tables and serve themselves while at the same time chat with those who are gathered around the bread and wine/juice with them. It has a feeling of our passing of the peace only with Communion elements included within the ritual. I will talk more about details of the service, but wanted to say here that Barry and I felt welcomed and included within much of the service. Doug, Barry and I had lunch together after the morning service where we had a much more informative and directed conversation. We attended two services; one at 10:00 am (a summer alternative worship time) with about 25 people in attendance (no children) and a 5:00 pm (their normal worship time) service. The afternoon service had approximately 100 in attendance and lots of active, busy children. Barry and I were the "oldest" people there, with the average age of those attending being between 25 and 35. It was a very interesting day, filling my imagination. Also we met Dan and Lydia’s friends who attend there, which extended the feelings of hospitality by connecting us back to Three Crosses. Web site link:

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Journeying to Solomon's Porch

Barry and I are off on our journey to Minneapolis – to visit Solomon’s Porch. I am up early to pack my suitcase. I know that in last week’s story Jesus as he was sending out the disciples, two by two, to other cities, told them “carry no purse, no bag, no sandals…” but I just bought new Teva’s (sandals) and I am packing them! I am aware that my suitcase has at least two outfits per day. One never knows what the world is going to bring, so one has to be ready for it – right? Now seriously, it will be very interesting to witness the life of Solomon’s Porch for one brief day – to see how they embody in the flesh their community.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Friendship Presbyterian Church visit

Yesterday Barry and I attended a Presbyterian Church ( in Norwood Park, which leases space and meets in a Metra train station. Three Crosses shares so much of the same contextual questions as they do. Their place of worship is a challenge as far as their ability of having a neighborhood presence. Who would ever expect a congregation to be meeting in the train station? Yesterday, the worship service was outside – and it was a similar number of folk that one would see at Three Crosses on a given Sunday. Being outside provided a more informal setting – we were even asked to take off our shoes and “leave them behind” as Jesus asked the disciples to not take much with them when they went into the cities. (Yesterday’s lectionary text.) The service was interactive. During the worship service – we “traveled” between conversation partners within the congregation to talk about topics that the pastor set before us. After worship, Barry and I had a great conversation with the pastor. It was reassuring that this congregation was right where COTTC is on our journey of rethinking church. We share some of the same questions around worship, marketing/outreach (evangelism in old model church language) missions and financial viability. I asked my 8 core questions and have logged them into my traveling journal.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Visiting Friendship Presbyterian Church

Barry and I are off to our first church visit – Friendship Presbyterian Church which meets in a Metra Station – except tomorrow – they are having worship outside. Here is their web link: Here is a bit of who they are: At FPC we believe that being a church isn’t about a building, it means seeking to be God’s hands and voice in the world. As a faith community, our mission is to create relationships that transform lives. We do this by welcoming and serving those around us. We also believe that God’s love is bigger than the labels and boxes that often define us but just to be clear, you are welcome to join us on our journey no matter your age, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, mental, physical or socio-economic status, we are glad that you are here! We promise that all will be welcomed, accepted, and celebrated as a beloved child of God. We respect and celebrate our differences, delighting in the variety of talents and gifts that result. We utilize the historic Norwood Park Metra Station for weekly worship plus monthly music concerts, community events, art shows and preparing monthly meals for The Night Ministry (a Chicago program that feeds the homeless and hungry and provides them with medical care). We are a transforming community, working on intentionally developing our faith and nurturing spiritual growth as we explore together the endless possibilities in relationship with each other, our community, and with God.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Spirituality as journey

As Barry and I sat still soaking up the July 4 firework's finale - the person standing beside us said to his family in a disappointed tone: "is that all there is - 15 minutes of fireworks and it took us three hours to get here and will take three hours to get home." With the day’s readings from Church Re-Imagined still lingering in my head I thought - folk could often say that about the church worship service if they only see the 11:00 am service as the "primary" moment within their spiritual journey. Did the disappointed spectator see any of his trip to and from the fireworks as moments of joy, did he feel a connection with his family, or did he feel the rumblings of a big city as part of his continuing story of human development? Should the fireworks be more than about the "moment" when streamers of fire are falling from the sky? Church Re-Imagined is helping confirm an intuition that I have been living with for some time. While I was taught in seminary (in the 1980's) that worship was the "primary moment" in the church's weekly activities; the moment when the church had a chance to transform and impact those gathered, I have felt deep within my bones that every relational encounter throughout the week, and the quality of those relational moments are equally or more important that what we say with our lips in that hour of worship. While what we do in worship is a critically important part of articulating publically who we are as a faith community, if it stands along, then I think we could be falling into "a sort of 'patent leather' spiritual formation - a glossy, slick substitute for the real thing [which] involves little vulnerability or self-disclosure. It is easy …to listen to someone talk about spirituality and belief without opening up to its implications. There is a certain ironic comfort to a life that looks the part on the outside while wilting away on the inside. But when a friend tells you about a deep struggle, and the natural response is to enter in to the person's life, whatever the risk - then we find ourselves being transformed into the people of grace and mercy opened for us in the Kindom of God." page 149. Church Re-Imagined

Monday, July 1, 2013

Day 1

It seems a bit odd that I am not headed to the church's office as I routinely do on Monday mornings. I feel a little off kilter, but in many ways that is what this sabbatical is about - opening myself/oursleves to new experiences - feeling a little off kilter so that I/we are in reflective mode and thus intentional about evaluating what we routinely do and perhaps take for granted. During the Pride Parade yesterday, where churches are cheered as we march by - it was a good reminder that "church" may have to hit the streets and take ourselves where people's needs meet the resources we have to offer. I know that the parade had a preset grouping of spectators, the more challenging reality is how to connect in ways when the crowds are gone.